To know God. That is the full measure and purpose of the Christian life. We know God in many ways, both by searching out and listening to what He has revealed to us about Himself, and by experiencing Him through relationship, by abiding in Him through obedience, by interacting with Him through prayer.
In the last article, we spoke of God’s eternal nature. In this article I want to talk about His unchanging or immutable nature. The fact that God is unchanging provides the christian with a number of important guarantees, not the least of which is confidence that God’s promises will be kept, for a God who cannot change is a God who will not go back on His word.
One final note before proceeding. I’ve provided links in the further reading section that explore some of the topics I’ve discussed here. Though I tend to agree with most of the content given, the works are the works of other individuals and may not express my own thoughts and feelings with complete accuracy. Nevertheless, the articles are useful and should be approached the same way my own writing are approached, with thoughtfulness, discretion and a desire to learn the truth.
He is Immutable
refs: James 1:17, Malachi 3:6, Numbers 23:19
What does it mean?
James tells us that with God there “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”. God’s immutable nature means that He does not change. This does not mean that God, when interacting with man in our space/time context, won’t change His mind, for we have evidence of God changing His mind numerous times in Genesis 6:6, Exodus 32: 14, Jonah 3, and others.
What it does mean is that who He is, His character does not change. His nature and being, His personality, do not change in response to us or our actions. He does not stop loving us when we break our promises. He cannot lie, nor will He break His promises, because He is the same God at every moment. God will respond to us in the context of who we are, always the same. Some of God’s promises are conditional, some of them unconditional. What is important here is that God’s immutable nature means that when God makes a promise, it is not in His nature to not keep it.
This character trait should not be surprising given what we know about His eternal nature. A being who is not subject to time would also not be led to change when a new event occurred, because no new events occur for Him. He has experienced, is experiencing, all events and thus no new things exist to change His mind or alter His character.
Why is it important that God not change?
If God could change, then His promises would be in doubt. His word would be suspect. Even if He had never changed before, the possibility of change means we must allow for doubt. Given what God calls us to do, trusting in His word, that is of significant importance. God asks us to turn the other cheek (Mt 5:19), love our enemies (Mt 5:43), deny ourselves (Mk 8:34), loose ourselves for the sake of the Gospel (Mk 8:35). Doing those things, sacrificing ourselves for His sake, is hard. And its a lot to ask if we have no assurance that He will remain true, that He will do as He promised us, that we will be rewarded for that labor.
If God could change (and if God were not eternal), it would be possible for Him to stop loving us. All of what we base our faith and lives on depends on God being immutable. We rely on His promise to save and transform us when we submit ourselves to Him under the conditions of the New Covenant in Christ that we call Christianity and the Gospel.
I want to a moment to clarify that, though God does ask much of us, it is not the nature of the New Covenant, for God to hold our behavior over our heads as it regards salvation. The bible is clear that salvation is a work that God does in us, not that we do ourselves. The sanctifying labor of self denial and sacrifice are not meant to accomplish our salvation, but to further the Gospel. God promises in Philippians 1:6 that He will finish the work of salvation He started in us. Until then, we are called to live the life that Paul the Apostle epitomized when he said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” in that same chapter in Philippians 1:21.